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2019 NHL Draft prospect profile: Layton Ahac is one of the most underrated defencemen in the class

A mature defensive game and burgeroning offensive prowess make Ahac a sleeper pick in 2019.

NHLI via Getty Images

Layton Ahac rose through the draft rankings in the second half of the season due to a great playoff performance, notably jumping from the 114th spot to 62nd in the NHL Central Scouting list.

Birthplace: North Vancouver, British Columbis, Canada
Date of birth: February 22, 2001
Shoots: Left
Position: Defenceman
Height: 6’2”
Weight: 187 lbs.
Team: Prince George Spruce Kings (BCHL)

After scoring about half a point per game in the regular season for the Prince George Spruce Kings, Ahac put up 17 points in 17 games in the post-season. Prince George won round after round, crowned champion of the BCHL and taking home the Doyle Cup. The team ultimately fell short in the Canadian Junior A championship, but Ahac had already managed to prove himself, extending his season as long as it could to show scouts what he can bring to a team.

EliteProspects

The increase in numbers suggest that Ahac has an offensive defenceman’s skill set. He possesses quite a powerful shot from the point and can fluidly play inside a team’s offensive structure. He jumps down a couple of times a game to receive a drop-pass from a forward, taking the puck to the slot or passing it there if he sees an opportunity.

He actively looks for chances to one-time cross-ice feeds, sneaking behind the defence to do so. He can also skate the puck up from his zone into the offensive zone and look to make a play once he crosses the blue line. That being said, while Ahac contributes to the attack, he doesn’t possess dynamic skills or the creativity that would project him as a point-getter at the next levels.

There are plenty of solid Junior defenders that don’t make it to the NHL. Organizations are looking for difference-makers in their scouting; players who can help generate more shot attempts, especially dangerous ones, for their team. Consistently being able to do that is one of the biggest predictors of success over time.

There is more than one way to achieve such a positive ratio. One of them is being extremely good at pushing opposing players out of high-scoring areas and breaking their plays to launch your team on the attack.

With development, there is a chance Ahac becomes a bigger offensive generator, but the main hope for the team that selects him will be that he turns into an effective shutdown presence; a dominant defender who closes on the opposition quickly and purposefully to limit their time with the puck.

Ahac was a pillar of the Spruce Kings. He brought them structure through his ability to read the play in front of him and adapt his positioning to best limit the opposition’s offensive options. Constantly shoulder-checking, he showed a more developed awareness of the ice than many of his counterparts — even those playing in the Major Junior leagues — and it served him well in breaking plays.

Follow #2 in blue or black in the clips above to see some examples of Ahac’s good defensive habits: his ability to identify and follow his coverage closely; to use his body or swift pokechecks to separate an opponent from the puck and escape with it before making a short breakout pass, and; how he rotates his head consistently to both keep the puck-carrier and the options within his vision to know where to cut passes or neutralize opponents’ sticks as they try to receive it.

His attention to details defensively shows an unusual maturity in his play. It was a big asset in shutting down some of the top players in the BCHL this season, including projected first-rounder Alex Newhook and the Victoria Grizzlies in the playoffs. It will be also be a big advantage in his transition to the NCAA next year where he could fill an important role on Ohio State’s blue line.

This isn’t to say that Ahac’s defensive game is perfect. He could close his gap earlier in his defence off the rush to stop players from entering the defensive zone with possession. He uses his stick well and pivots fluidly to keep them to the outside as they make their way up the ice, but could be even more aggressive with his range and body to close access to his blue line entirely.

Further improving his skating would help in that facet of the game as he could better match oncoming forwards. Ahac’s mobility isn’t a weakness, but he has a tendency to skate upright and could maximize the power of his long legs with more pronounced knee-bend and generally better posture. Adding speed and quickness would also help the defenceman’s ability to move the puck.

Prince George seemed to have relied on their forechecking system to create offence this season, and Ahac was often skating the puck up only as far as his forwards positioned in the neutral zone, who then dumped it into the offensive zone. He didn’t seem to create many controlled entries or exits. But his poise and awareness could lead him to become a much better passer on the breakout and in neutral-zone transitions, and perhaps his years with Ohio State could help him hone this aspect of his game.

Rankings (not all rankings are final)

Button/TSN: #70
Future Considerations: #108
Hockey Prospect: #36
NHL Central Scouting: #62 (NA skaters)
Pronman/The Athletic: #97

Most scouting services remain conservative in their ranking of Ahac despite his emergence this season, but the defenceman is a player who could be selected much higher due to his solid play away from the puck, his size, and decent mobility. He could go as high as the second round if a team really believes in his ability to continue his upward trajectory in his offensive and transition games while they retain his rights in his years in the NCAA. His playoff performance, where he doubled his point-per-game pace, is a good sign of the progression to come.